Whether you work for a healthcare-focused company or an agency, the process to engage competent freelance medical writers is pretty much the same.

Depending on what you’re currently looking for, you want to make sure to get the best fit in terms of knowledge/experience in the relevant therapy areas and functional expertise. And, needless to say, a great freelance medical writer should also be a fantastic communicator, dependable and passionate about the work.

 In this guide, we’ll discuss the following topics:

  • What to look for in a successful freelance medical writer

    • Do PhDs matter?
    • Medical writer scientific knowledge
    • Medical writing expertise
    • Medical writing experience
    • Qualities of the best medical writers
    • Availability for freelance medical writing projects
  • How much should medical writers cost?

  • Do you actually just need an agency?


What to look for in a successful freelance medical writer

First and foremost, let’s highlight the undeniable importance of experience and qualifications in your search for an exceptional freelancers. It’s not just about finding someone who possesses knowledge inside and out; it’s about discovering an individual who effortlessly navigates the intricate world of medical terminology and concepts, transforming them into easily digestible content. We’re talking about a true virtuoso with words, someone who can weave a tapestry of knowledge with finesse and clarity.

However, a top-notch freelance medical writer isn’t just skilled with words; they’re also masters of meeting deadlines, skillfully delivering projects on time, every time. They thrive under pressure, consistently delivering exceptional work without breaking a sweat.

In terms of personality, it’s not enough for a writer to impress you; they must connect seamlessly with target audiences by making medical topics relatable while maintaining the utmost professionalism. They may even act as a bridge between the complex medical world and patients, effortlessly weaving words with finesse and charm to inform and captivate.

Let’s not forget the ever-important aspect of budget. As with any business decision, financial considerations come into play. More on that later, but plan to aim for that sweet spot where exceptional quality and affordability meet.

Now, into a deep dive of qualifications, scientific knowledge, expertise, experience and qualities of the best freelance medical writers.


Do PhDs matter?

freelance medical writer putting on gloves during PhD lab work

While many health writers have PhDs (as well as MDs or PharmDs), it shouldn’t be a requirement for freelance medical writers either.

Think of a PhD like a screening mechanism – if someone is willing to spend up to eight years of hard work pursing a degree in a very specific medical field, they’re probably passionate, dedicated, hard-working, organized, have an innate love of health, medical knowledge, words and writing (or managed to cultivate one!) and knows how to properly reference their work.

However, the above description also happens to describe our founder, Shalon and many of the people she’s had experience working in healthcare PR firms or client-side. Most of us (including Shalon) do not have a higher degree (just a quirky love of health-related information and content). Since we have a foundational understanding of biostats and are critical thinkers, we have the right skills to digest raw data, clearly communicate why specific results from clinical trials and meta-analyses should matter to physicians and patients, and have invested the time to learn how to endnote our work.

Thus, don’t be too quick to cast aside freelance writers and senior medical writer candidates who have extensive experience (often from working within a medical communications agency) and a proven track record, just because they don’t have a PhD. With that said, PR-it generally offers clients medical writers with advanced degrees.


Medical writer scientific knowledge

Freelance Medical Writer Cancer Knowledge

What you’ll often find is that a great freelance health writer, will either have a really broad or a really specific educational background in a medical and/or health field. S/he may have a bachelor’s degree or master’s degree in a broad topic such as biology or public health or a PhD in a really specific topic like the GLP-1 pathway in people with obesity.

While it’s of course ideal to find a freelance senior medical writer, who has studied/worked in the exact field of health or medicine a writing job is focused on, most of the time it will be challenging to find a talented writer who will be a perfect fit in this regard. This is especially true if using job boards or freelancer platforms where you have to sift through profiles — it will feel like you’re looking for a needle in a haystack.

The good news is, that for most freelance medical writer jobs, you don’t need freelance writing experts to have an incredibly deep knowledge in specific diseases, therapeutic areas or company. Mostly, this is because medical writers are an intellectually curious bunch and their projects have naturally led them to work across clusters of related topics.

For example, while a writer may have fallen in love with investigating the mysteries shrouding Alzheimer’s Disease and produced a lot of great work in that field, that job may have led to an opportunity to write about exciting findings in rare childhood neurologic diseases. Great work on that job may have then led to a project focused on clinical study reports on stem cell transplants in children and that eventually led to an opportunity to write up health outcomes for gene therapies and so on. This illustration gives you a feel for how medical writers can pick up a lot of knowledge across a number of areas through freelance medical writing jobs over time.

Shalon remembers being surprised whilst working in a healthcare PR firm in New York, that the most experienced medical writer and scientific counsel for pharmaceuticals, rare cancers and mental health was a guy with a PhD in nutrition.

The fact is, freelance medical writers who are great at their job are versatile, and can extrapolate their expertise to health writing in a related, tangential or new therapeutic areas. Any medical writer with integrity will turn down a job they’re not confident they can deliver on.

Having said that, PR-it uses its own proprietary web app to match its independent experts to client briefs based on disease and therapy expertise to ensure the most qualified fit.


Medical writing expertise

PR-it freelance medical writer at work

So, is freelance medical writing, literally just writing? Depending on your personal experience, you may think the scope is limited to manuscripts, posters, presentations, or continuing medical education (CME) materials. However, like most healthcare communications professionals, diverse backgrounds enables these freelance experts to offer a wide range of health writing services.

Since they have a strong understanding of medical terminology, freelancers are able to translate complex scientific concepts into clear and concise language which enables effective communication with a variety of audiences, including scientists, doctors, patients, and the general public. They can write in a variety of styles, from formal to informal, and can adapt their writing to the specific needs of the audience.

Some freelancers focus on well, just writing, whilst others also perform systematic literature reviews with statistical analyses or prepare regulatory documents. Then, there are those who are also full blown healthcare communications experts who can also provide strategic counsel, produce publications plans, create content, draft reports of scientific sessions at medical congresses, and organize pharmaceutical company advisory boards.

Here’s a list of areas of expertise you may be able to expect out of a successful medically-focused freelancer (especially one with agency experience):

Strategy and planning

Strategic and planning support for medical products and services. They can help to develop clinical trial protocols, identify target audiences, and create marketing plans.


Freelancers write a variety of publications, including manuscripts, supplements, journal articles, white papers, posters, abstracts, monographs, and case studies. They follow all relevant guidelines and ensure that their work is accurate and up-to-date.

Medical education

Similarly, healthcare communications experts can create a variety of materials for medical education, including CME and non-CME (in-person or online courses), satellite symposia presentations and brochures, mechanism of disease (MoD) and mechanism of action (MoA) video scripts, preceptorship documents, training materials for medical science liaisons (MSLs) and affiliates and patient education materials.

Medical meetings

Freelance medical writers also prepare content for medical meetings, including advisory board presentations, slide decks, and handle engagement with key opinion leaders (KOLs). Seasoned freelancers are skilled at understanding the needs of a target audience and creating materials that are both informative and engaging.

Promotional materials

Detail aids, objection handlers, messaging platforms, brochures, leave behinds, website content, and content marketing are materials that most freelance medical writers can produce. The most skilled writers can develop the content in a persuasive way to help increase sales.

Regulatory writing

Regulatory documents, including clinical trial protocols, investigator brochures, informed consent forms, clinical study reports, and common technical documentation is a bit more niche and medical writers that develop these types of materials tend to be more technical and specialized than those who work across other aspects of healthcare communications.


Freelancers can also provide a variety of support services, including fact checking, referencing, developing reference packs, and medical editing. While they can be engaged exclusively for these types of tasks, its generally not their favorite!

Medical writers may also join professional writing associations such as the European Medical Writers Association or the American Medical Writers Association which open doors to medical writing jobs in other areas such as educational writing, medical documents, medical information and health news.


Medical writing experience

Freelance Medical Writer Working

Most freelance medical writers have experience working with a variety of clients ranging from healthcare agencies, pharmaceutical and biotech companies, professional associations, academic institutions and often directly with healthcare professionals themselves (especially key opinion leaders).

Many freelancers have also published their own research in peer-reviewed medical journals or even worked for these journals themselves (which can be tremendously valuable if you need help with publications planning or manuscript preparations).

Generally, it’s fairly clear from a writer’s CV as to where their expertise and experience lies from past medical writer jobs or prior career in communications agencies.

Some writers are also adept at using MLR systems like Veeva Vault that are required by pharmaceutical companies to approve assets that are used for internal and external communications purposes. This is especially helpful because then they can autonomously handle a job end-to-end, including tagging references in the system, clarifying feedback directly with reviewers and reducing budget otherwise needed for a team project manager or account director to handle the logistics of the upload and feedback loop.



Qualities of the best medical writers

Happy freelance medical writer

Everyone likes a responsive medical writer (or any freelance writer for that matter!) with a ‘can-do’ attitude, a way with words and a solutions-oriented approach. It’s also critical that s/he write content that is fastidiously detail-orientated (got to get that referencing 100% watertight!), but also flexible if information, approaches, or content need to be amended per MLR feedback or to better support pharmaceutical brand/business objectives or messages.

You’ll be able to glean this from the interview by asking questions such as, “how have you resolved a difference of opinion with a client, colleague, or MLR reviewer on a past medical writing or regulatory medical writing or communications project?”

These types of questions will give you some insight as to whether they’re good listeners, contrarians, yes-men/women, or will critically think about your feedback and thoughtfully implement it whilst flagging any concerns/alternative options.

And lastly, ask for medical writing samples or their writing portfolio (of course)!



Availability for freelance medical writing projects

Freelance medical writer availability

Sure, you want medical writers who are available to take on your jobs, but you don’t want them to be too available. People who are amazing at what they do (especially freelancers) are generally booked up and unavailable for full time gigs.

However, by operating as a collective with a curated invitation-only network of medical writing and healthcare communications talent, PR-it is able to provide clients high-quality medical writers on-demand whether your organization is based in New York, London or Timbuktu.



How much should medical writers cost?

Freelance Medical Writer Cost in Dollars or Euros

How long is a piece of string, right?!

The cost for a freelance principal medical writer generally varies depending on their educational and medical background, (i.e. PhD, MD or PharmD), number of years as a medical content writer, whether they previously served as scientific directors in-house or account directors in agencies, publishing track record, how in-demand they currently are, complexity and duration of the job, and how they contract for their time (i.e. flat fee project rates, day rates or hourly rates) or if they have their own business.

Just keep in mind, like everything in life and business, you get what you pay for. Freelance senior medical writers have highly specialized writing skills that are in demand and the projects are often time-consuming due to research and referencing requirements.


Do you actually just need an agency?

Getting what you want at a meeting

After reading this post, did you think maybe you need more than a single freelancer can handle? If this is you, it may be worthwhile to reflect on whether you should hire a boutique healthcare communications agency, or if you can really get by just with freelance writers.

Here are some factors to consider when making your decision:


Agencies can be expensive, but they can also save you time and money in the long run. Freelancers are typically less expensive, but they may not have the same level of experience or resources as an agency.


If you need a team of experts with a proven track record, then an agency may be the best option. However, if you’re looking for a more cost-effective solution, then a freelancer may still be a better fit.


If you need materials quickly, then freelancers may be the best option. However, if you have more time, then an agency may be able to provide you with more creative and strategic solutions.


A few benefits of agencies to consider:


Agencies can provide interdisciplinary teams of writers, editors, designers, and strategists who are experts in the medical field. They know how to communicate complex medical information in a clear and concise way that will resonate with your target audience.

Time savings

Agencies can save time by taking care of all the details of a campaign or project. This frees you up to focus on other more pressing needs and enables you to get more work done.

Peace of mind

Working with an agency can give you peace of mind knowing that there’s likely to be levels of quality control and oversight before work is submitted.

Ultimately, the decision of whether to hire a healthcare communications agency or freelancer(s) is up to you. There is no one-size-fits-all answer, and the best approach will depend on your specific needs and budget.

Here are some additional tips for choosing the best partner whether they’re a freelancer or an agency:

  • Get everything in writing, including the scope of work, timeline, and pricing. This will help to avoid any misunderstandings or disagreements down the road.
  • Be clear about your expectations and goals. What do you hope to achieve with your medical communications efforts? The more specific you can be, the better.
  • Provide the partner with all the information they need to do their job effectively. This includes clinical trial data, product information, market research and target audience demographics.


Consider PR-it

PR-it freelance medical writers

Since we’re a collective of independent experts you can have the flexibility and cost-effectiveness of freelancers combined with the depth of expertise, resources and peace of mind of an agency.

We can assign small projects to one or two medical writers or we can curate virtual dream teams with healthcare communications experts, medical illustrators (2D & 3D) / animators (3D) and graphic designers to deliver projects end-to-end like an agency. We can support product launches, publications, education modules, congresses, marketing initiatives, etc.

If you want to have complete peace of mind whether you need freelance medical writers or an agency, then drop us an email.

Once we receive your inquiry, we’ll be right on it! You can expect a quick response from us, either with a straightforward flat fee quote or an invitation to hop on a brief call. This way, we can dig deeper into the specifics of your project, understanding all the nitty-gritty details and goals. We’re all about making sure we’re on the same page and ready to kickstart a successful collaboration!

Keep in mind that we also back all of our hard work with a quality commitment. We’re not happy until you are (yes, really!).


While you’re here, you may also want to check out our guide, “How to hire the best PR freelancer.”

Post originally published 23 September 2020; last updated 2 June 2023.